Murder by police. If these incidents do not anger us, then what will?

Summary:  Police casually shooting citizens. Nothing shows the rise of New America as the exercise of the ultimate power, demonstrating there are State agents, the rich & powerful, and the little people. A rash of incidents rubs our faces in this ugly truth. We smile and pass the soma. We can do better.

Police shooting

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“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
— Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book (1964)

Contents

  1. Introduction to our security services
  2. A sample of incidents
  3. Analysis
  4. For More Information
  5. Welcome to America

(1)  Introduction to our security services

Last year Michael Cohen asked me on Twitter why I talk about a New America (he is a columnist for the Guardian about US politics, and a fellow of the Century Foundation. See his Twitter feed here.) He is one of his generation’s best and brightest, and his reaction is usually typical of pundit opinion. As it was with Snowden, where Cohen joined those mocking him. As it is with his inability to see the large-scale structural change that I call the construction of a New America on the ruins of the old.

This is yet another post documenting an aspect of this evolution (aka a slow revolution; see others at the end). It’s a common story in history. The interesting part of this story is peoples’ unwillingness — then and now — to see from the individual events on the news to the big picture.

It’s not difficult. Look at the transformation of our police from doing law enforcement into security services. SWAT teams bringing military tactics and equipment to routine police work (most frequent task: serving warrants); see details here. DoD arming police with military equipment (see Fox News and Washington Post).

And shooting people. With little reason. It’s becoming an issue as they become more blatant (not just the usual oppression of the poor and minorities) — and as modern tech catches them on film. But as with the revelations about surveillance by the NSA, the real significance of these stories comes from our reaction. Or, as with the NSA news, our lack of reaction.

The creation of the New America follows the death of the America-that-once-was — by neglect and apathy. The machinery of democracy still exists, if only there a free people can be found to work it.

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Fake quote of Montesquieu on tyranny
A fake quote, but true nonetheless

(2)  A sampling of incidents

These are just drops in the sea of incidents. They have not dented our confidence in the police. A people who regard these with apathy does not deserve liberty, and probably cannot keep it.

  1. Eight police and a dog surround mentally ill man holding small knife, six of them fatally shoot him, CNN, 21 September 2012
  2. Houston police fatally shoot wheelchair-bound double amputee diagnosed with severe mental health problems, Houston Chronicle, 24 September 2012
  3. Dallas chief fires officer over shooting of mentally ill man“, Dallas Morning News,  24 December 2013 — Officer Cardan Spencer caught on video.
  4. Dallas police chief fires officer in shooting of suspect“, Dallas Morning News,  30 December 2013 — Amy Wilburn caught on video.
  5. ‘We called for help, and they killed my son,’ North Carolina man says“, CNN, 7 January 2014
  6. Same incident: “Cop Allegedly Said ‘We Don’t Have Time For This’ Before Shooting Schizophrenic Teen To Death“, Annie-Rose Strasser, ThinkProgress, 7 January 2014
  7. Professor of Physics has adverse reaction to wine, wife calls 911 for an ambulance, police handcuff him and arrest her, New York Times, 16 January 2014

(3)  Analysis

  1. Killed by the Cops“, a joint series by Colorlines and The Chicago Reporter, 4 November 2007
  2. Across nation, unsettling acceptance when mentally ill in crisis are killed“, Portland Press Herald, 12 December 2012 — “Even as they face a growing number of disturbed people, police often lack crisis training. And the leadership and data-gathering needed to stem the bloodshed are largely absent.” Every single police shooting ruled justified since 2000.
  3. Justifiable Homicides by Law Enforcement Officers: What Is the Role of Mental Illness?“, A Joint Report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and National Sheriffs’ Association, September 213

(4)  For More Information

(a)  Posts about police in America:

(b)  Posts about our shameful prisons:

  1. An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America, 10 November 2009 — About our prisons
  2. Being a third world nation is a state of mind, as we will learn (about prison rape), 19 March 2011
  3. Our prisons are a mirror showing the soul of America. It’s not a pretty picture., 28 March 2011
  4. Back to the future: convict labor returns to America (a powerful tool to force down wages and crush unions), 23 April 2012
  5. Convict labor returns to America, part 2 – Lucrative for the employers, expensive for us., 24 April 2012
  6. Convict labor, part 3 – We cannot plead ignorance. We do know., 25 April 2012

(c)  Posts about our broken criminal justice system:

  1. Nixon declared war on drugs, a major investment of America in itself – but one that’s gone bad, 21 May 2010
  2. The Feds decide who to lock up for life (not just at Guantanamo), another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 2 June 2010
  3. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice System — Excerpts from The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz
  4. More about the collapse of the American Criminal Justice System– Studies and reports about our shameful system.
  5. Final thoughts about the American Criminal Justice System, 21 September 2011
  6. Why should we care about the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing strip & cavity searches of prisoners?, 5 April 2012

(5)  Welcome to America

See the story at Inside Higher Education.

Pepper spray by police
Occupy Protest at UC Davis, 18 November 2011

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25 thoughts on “Murder by police. If these incidents do not anger us, then what will?

  1. Perhaps these killings are a form of eugenics, implemented and applauded by a faction that is otherwise opposed to abortion?

    There are some Libertarians that follow Murray Rothbard almost as a religion. “A RIGHT-WING POPULIST PROGRAM“, January 1992

    “4. Take Back the Streets: Crush Criminals. And by this I mean, of course, not “white collar criminals” or “inside traders” but violent street criminals – robbers, muggers, rapists, murderers. Cops must be unleashed, and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error.

    5. Take Back the Streets: Get Rid of the Bums. Again: unleash the cops to clear the streets of bums and vagrants. Where will they go? Who cares? Hopefully, they will disappear, that is, move from the ranks of the petted and cosseted bum class to the ranks of the productive members of society.”

  2. As I recently commented on another site, one of the reasons why so many of the American people are refusing to connect the dots when it comes to incidents such as these is because they’re stubbornly clinging to their dreams of the way things used to be (or at least ought to be) in this country while at the same time desperately trying to remain in denial about what is actually happening. In many ways, they’re acting like a wife whose husband is unfaithful. She’s aware of her husband’s infidelity on a subconscious level, but blocks out all conscious knowledge of it even when she’s confronted with concrete evidence — at which point she usually comes up with all kinds of half-baked reasons (which even she recognizes are threadbare) in a desperate effort to pretend that there’s a perfectly good reason for his behavior. The reason why she does this is because she’s absolutely terrified by the thought of what acknowledging the affair would require of her — she would have to face the fact that her marriage is in trouble and deal with the question of whether the marriage is really worth keeping or not (as well as all of the other issues that she would have to deal with if she decided that she can no longer endure being married to a man who’s betrayed her trust to this degree)

    In much the same way, the majority of Americans avoid connecting the dots because they are on some level already very much aware of what they will see if they do so and are absolutely terrified of what it means…basically, that this country is being subjected to creeping authoritarianism. Like the wronged wife, they know that connecting the dots will most likely bring them face-to-face with some profoundly uncomfortable home truths — in this case, about themselves and the country. Acknowledging these truths will be so painful that the people will not be able to ignore them any longer and the pressure to make changes will become increasingly intense — but the changes required will not come easy. Far from it, in fact…as with the wronged wife, the kind of changes that will probably be required will be so dramatic and so significant that they have a distinct potential to be life-altering.

    The difficulty is that even though change is an inevitable and necessary fact of life, human beings as a whole tend to be very resistant to it…and the greater the change, the greater the degree of resistance tends to be. In the case of the wronged wife, the fact that her husband has betrayed her trust does not necessarily alter the fact that living in a two-income household offers significant benefits and comforts that a single-income household usually does not — and the realization that acknowledging the infidelity potentially might mean giving those benefits up, especially when there are children involved, can be a strong motivator in favor of not acknowledging the affair in the interest of secondary gain. Of course, this is not without its share of risk…even if the wife decides not to force the issue, there’s always the possibility that her husband will eventually take the choice out of her hands and force the issue himself (at which point it’s often no longer an issue of choice but of one of inevitability).

    In the case of the American people, the fact that both federal and state governments have been betraying our trust and reneging on their responsibilities to us does not necessarily alter the fact that challenging the government — particularly one which is sliding toward authoritarianism! — is not without its share of significant risks. The knowledge that challenging the government — especially these days — potentially might involve putting one’s own well-being (reputation, property, income, freedom, health, and even life) on the line can be a strong motivator in favor of not seeing what is happening. (Again, this is not without its own share of risk — if nothing is done to stop the move toward authoritarianism, there may well come a time when people have to lay down their lives even if only because death is preferable to life when that’s the only kind of freedom left.) Granted, the definition of a truly ethical and/or heroic act is doing something which you know to be right even when it costs you…but there’s no denying the fact that the costs which many heroes and freedom fighters have paid have been very high indeed.

    1. Bluestocking,

      Thanks for this incisive analysis.

      “Like the wronged wife, they know that connecting the dots will most likely bring them face-to-face with some profoundly uncomfortable home truths.”

      That’s a really brilliant analogy! I’ll definitely use that (with due credit, of course).

    2. One of the things which makes this issue a difficult one for me is the fact that it’s personal — and not just because I know what it’s like to avoid facing the fact that a loved one has betrayed you (the advantage being that once you finally acknowledge what’s really happening, you gain a remarkable sense of clarity and a firm resolve to avoid deceiving yourself ever again), but also because of my family history.

      My maternal grandfather, who flew bombing missions over Europe during WWII, always told my mother that he believed what happened in Nazi Germany could potentially happen here — and as it happened, only ten years after the war ended, the Air Force stationed my grandfather and the rest of the family in Germany for a couple of years. (She visited Dachau at the tender age of twelve, and still considers it one of the most disturbing experiences of her life.) Almost as soon as I was old enough to understand, my mother began teaching me what her father had taught her about Nazi Germany and the importance of questioning authority. These lessons continued throughout most of my childhood.

      Some fifteen-plus years later, my mother hadn’t forgotten any of what she had taught me — but after 9-11, she became very reluctant (and to some extent still is) to apply what she taught me to the current state of our country. I know that part of it is due to being a former military brat and the respect she has for her father and brother (who also became career military) — but at the same time, she doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that the wars which our country fights in today are (on many levels) not the same kind of war which her father fought.

      She admits that Eisenhower was right when he warned us about the Military Industrial Complex, but she doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that the Military Industrial Complex is arming the police with the kinds of weapons that could very easily be used (and in a couple of cases have already been used) to subdue crowds of protesters and that the police are using unnecessarily brutal or even lethal force to subdue people who do not pose a serious threat. On the whole, she seems to have made the choice to turn a blind eye to a lot of what’s happening.

      I can understand the reason why, even though I can’t agree with it — she was fortunate enough to live through America’s Golden Age when the country was still prosperous and at least trying to live up to its ideals, and she’s also not young anymore. However, I suspect that she’s also terrified at the prospect of seeing this country slowly turning into everything that her father fought against and warned her about…so in the true spirit of denial, she’s chosen not to connect the dots and to convince herself that it isn’t really as bad as all that. I find it difficult to connect her with the same woman who taught me about Nazi Germany when I was young.

      I share your frequent frustrations, FM, with regard to dealing with people who (to switch metaphors) would rather remain in the relative comfort of the Matrix even though it’s a fantasy than take the red pill and face the real world. There are moments when it’s tempting to think like Cypher and wish that you could find refuge in denial…but once your eyes have been opened, there really is no shutting them again even if there doesn’t seem to be much you can do about what you see. Unfortunately, at least at present, having our eyes open also puts us in a position which feels disturbingly similar to that of Cassandra — the Trojan princess who was cursed with a gift for making accurate prophecies which everyone nevertheless refused to believe, and thus was unable to do anything to prevent the fall of her country that she had predicted.

    3. Bluestocking,

      Thank you for this personal history. It’s always interesting to see how people grapple with these changes.

      “I share your frequent frustrations, FM, with regard to dealing with people who (to switch metaphors) would rather remain in the relative comfort of the Matrix even though it’s a fantasy than take the red pill and face the real world.”

      Such people post interesting comments justifying their inaction. They await grand future events that will solve our problems in some vague fashion (e.g, a constitutional convention). Or take refuge in abstract theorizing. Or explain that Zeno was right, and motion is impossible. I deal harshly with them, but don’t find them frustrating.

      The largest fraction of comments are of the form red = blue. When starting this project I expected comments to be firefights over clashing values and alternative visions of the future. Instead they’re about basic facts. We are winning in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 the economy was fine; there was no housing bubble. Scientists are wrong, and there is no pause in warming of the surface atmosphere.

      It’s endless. I have never seen a website where the bulk of comments disagree with the posts. Perhaps those are the many websites that have turned off comments, or moderated them severely. Look at the comments to the posts listed on the Past Predictions page (successes) — mostly fierce opposition and condemnation.

      Worse, of course, is that the hours giving fact-filled rebuttals to these people were almost entirely wasted. Perhaps that is the utility of these comments: they’re the red pill forcing on me the knowledge that these posts are largely wasted effort.

      You concluding note about Cassandra certainly resonates with me. I well know how she felt.

  3. The Rise of the Praetorian Class“, Pete Kofod (president of Datasages), posted at Casey Research, 13 January 2012

    “As they serve in their martial role, members of the Praetorian Class learn to despise members of the Political Class and to view the plight of the Economic Class with detachment or even contempt. Law enforcement and military personnel will converse behind closed doors about the most horrific injustices and brutalities with cavalier amusement. While perhaps natural, their training for violence and teamwork is a fundamental cause for why members of the Praetorian Class abandon their roots and in time come to view their peers “back on the farm” with contempt. Likewise, the steady displays of the craven and treacherous character of the Political Class causes the Praetorian Class to privately disavow emotional allegiance to their masters, usually early in their service.”

    1. Duncan,

      That’s a mildly interesting article, as an act of imagination. There is a massive body of research about these matters, which the author appears ignorant of. Most importantly, he makes no attempt (and seems unaware of the question) to show that this situation has changed during the past century. Did Irish cops in 1930 view their Irish communities and their political leaders? Black police in the 1960s?

      Much of it looks specious, certainly without any evidence given. I suggest that the author chat with actual police and soldiers for opinion of their wonderful preferential treatment. In fact our troops have frequently had conflicts with airlines about travel arrangements, resolved only by appeal to the public (after which the airlines were shamed into change).

      Over time, additional perquisites are bestowed upon the Praetorian Class including preferential treatment in both private and public facilities. Preferred air travel accommodations for uniformed personnel, including dedicated lines at TSA checkpoints and preferential boarding, have recently emerged as cultural standards that further distance the Praetorian Class from the masses.

  4. Bluestocking claims: “As I recently commented on another site, one of the reasons why so many of the American people are refusing to connect the dots when it comes to incidents such as these is because they’re stubbornly clinging to their dreams of the way things used to be…”

    I disagree. Seems to me that systematic programs of behavioral conditioning like turning our K-12 schools into prisons where 13-year-old girls get strip-searched for bringing aspirin to school (“zero tolerance policy on drugs”) and grannies get harrassed and humiliated by TSA agents has conditioned the public to regard themelves as passive helpless serfs.

    The total lack of accountability in secret laws behind the no-fly lists and completely arbitrary pat-downs and harrassment by muggers with badges creates “learned helplessness” in the public.

    As far as I can tell, this is deliberate. And the program of mass conditioning has been highly successful. Students get trained to think of themselves as prisoner-serfs without civil rights; fliers and drivers get trained to think of themelves as helpless vassals who must obey any order by a mugger with a badge regardless how insane, without question; and voters get conditioned to regardless themselves as impotent minions whose votes get erased by the Supreme Court whenever it becomes convenient.

    With such a powerful program of mass conditioning in place, it hardly seems surprising that Americans react like docile passive serfs.

    1. Thomas,

      “As far as I can tell, this is deliberate.”

      This is deep waters, indeed. If I may interpret your point broadly, to what extent is the building of a New America a deliberate — or even planned — project? Centrally directed or what John Robb calls an open-source insurgency (or movement)?

      In many of its political and economic dimensions we have documents showing intent, planning, and coordination. For details see Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013.

      But what about the broader social changes, as Thomas describes? Or perhaps even an integrated vision of a new society? Could a small number of people, however powerful, execute such a project in secrecy? The mind boggles…

    2. If we’re going to bring up the subject of passive submission to authority, it would be remiss not to discuss the Milgram Experiments at Yale in the early 1960’s since that’s precisely what they were about. (On the specific issue of police brutality, the Stanford Prison Experiment — which was conducted at around the same time — would seem to be worth further examination as well, but that’s a subject worth a comment all its own.)

      The subjects in the Milgram experiment were brought into a waiting area and told that they would be participating in a study of memory. They were assigned to one of two roles — teacher or learner — and brought into the lab. The learner was placed in a chair and electrodes were fastened to his or her body with wires leading into another room. The teacher was brought into this other room and seated before a console attached to the wires which ran in from the other room — the console displayed a series of switches. The experimenter took a seat nearby.

      The experimenter told the teacher that he or she would be giving the learner a series of multiple-choice questions through a speaker — and if the learner answered incorrectly or failed to answer, the teacher would be required to flip one of the switches and administer an electric shock to the learner. The experimenter then told the teacher that each failure to answer correctly on the learner’s part would be answered with an increasingly powerful shock — the switches represented different levels of shock up to 450 volts, which the teacher was told could injure or potentially even kill the learner.

      What the teachers didn’t know was that the person assigned to the role of learner was in reality an assistant — the teachers were the only real subjects — and there was actually no connection between the console and the electrodes. The experiment was designed to see whether ordinary people would be willing to comply with an authority figure (the experimenter) who instructed them to subject a seemingly innocent and average person to an experience which most ordinary people would define as unnecessary cruelty or even torture.

      As the experiment progressed, the subject began receiving vocal feedback from the assistant designed to give the impression that he or she was truly receiving increasingly painful shocks. The assistant also deliberately made more and more mistakes with the intent of forcing the subject to increase the level of shock in compliance with the instructions. With varying degrees of reluctance, 61% to 66% of all subjects continued to comply with the experimenter’s instructions up to and including the delivery of what they’d been led to believe was a potentially lethal shock. (An interesting side effect which Milgram observed is that while the experiment was in progress, not one person — not even those who refused to continue to the end — ever expressed the opinion that such an experiment should not be allowed or made any effort to check on the “learner” in the other room.)

      The point of all this is that passive submission to authority on the part of the American public is not a recent development at all. The Milgram experiment makes it fairly clear that this was a part of the American consciousness (or perhaps more accurately, the American subconscious) long before the issues of no-fly lists or “zero-tolerance” drug policies or the militarization of the police were even imagined. (My guess is that any African-American old enough to have participated in the civil rights demonstrations of the 60’s might actually have something to say about police brutality.) The only real differences between then and now seem to be the tools which are being made available to the authorities and the fact that the authorities seem to be growing more blatant and more severe in their efforts to enforce their power.

    3. Bluestocking,

      You are running hot today. That’s a great connection — one that I didn’t make — to the Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiments, a big help in understanding our passive acceptance of growing police (aka one set of the security services) power and brutality.

    4. One important feature of the Stanford Prison Experiment which some people might not be aware of is the fact that seventy people originally volunteered to participate in the study — and from that pool, Philip Zimbardo chose twenty-four whom the members of the research team perceived as being the most stable and well-adjusted psychologically. The team was very careful to eliminate as a prospective participant anyone with a criminal background, \emotional problems, or a history of medical complaints. Most of the participants were white and middle-class — the kind of people who most Americans at the time would have regarded as model citizens (or at least average citizens).

      Over the course of only six days, the ostensibly ordinary, healthy, and well-adjusted college students of above average intelligence who were randomly assigned to the role of guard descended to the level of sadistic brutes merely because they were given the freedom to inflict psychological abuse on fellow human beings (and they did so such an extent that one person under their control began to lose his grip on reality and demonstrate behavior which led the research team to fear for his sanity and his life).

      Knowing this, is it really any surprise or wonder at all that members of the police force in post-9/11 America are using savage and sometimes lethal force considering the fact that the government and the nation have implicitly given them what virtually amounts to carte blanche when it comes to preventing another terrorist incident in this country? It certainly does not surprise me — to quote one of my favorite political philosophers, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The more license you allow the police to have in terms of what they’re allowed to do in the enforcement of public order, the more likely it becomes that they will use unnecessary force simply because they know they can (and especially if they’re provided with lots of high-powered toys to assist them…police departments don’t buy them just to watch them gather dust in a storage locker). As Zimbardo demonstrated, if this is true of relatively ordinary and well-adjusted people after only six days, imagine how much more likely this is to be true of people who are not so well-adjusted and/or over the long term. It raises the question of how careful and selective the current screening of candidates for the police academy is…and whether or not tightening the standards would make a significant difference.

  5. FM,

    My wife (investigative reporter) is about to start a series on police brutality in NC. I’ll pass it along when complete.

    Here’s one project that I played a small part observing in Salinas, CA.

    1. Domestic Insights: Gangs and Guerrillas: Ideas from Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism,

    http://www.nps.edu/Academics/Schools/GSOIS/Departments/DA/Documents/G%20&%20G%204_21_2011.pdf

    At the time, we were looking to see if something good could come out of all the time that we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hope was that we could possibly help better train our police force to be less violent.

    Here’s some of my observations-

    A. Bad police shootings are not spread evenly across the domestic police force. They are typically clustered in areas where bad cultures and lack of leadership exist. In CA, Salinas is one of those areas. In North Carolina, Durham is one of those areas.

    B. Poor training is usually a key factor in these shootings. Often, over-aggressive cops are punks who were rejected from entering the military. Those types of folks need to be kept off of the force. In other scenarios, police simply need better training (not weapons). They need to relearn to walk their beats, live in the neighborhoods that they work in, and become part of the community. That leads to better intelligence and better decision making. Plus, you don’t end up in a bad shooting incident because you were scared.

    C. We have militarized our police force. Providing military grade weapons and body armor is the dumbest thing we can do. Period. We throw money at the police force instead of investing in people- time on training, selection, and retention of those who show the aptitude to be good officers.

    Mike

  6. There are lots of similarities between the current era of community oriented policing (COP) with COIN. Ideas central to both include multi-tasking of officers and soldiers and attempts to enlist the help of civilians. Leaving aside for a moment how the hearts and minds approach is frequently insulting to the intelligence of the population, as well as the lack of success of COIN, it’s worth noting that the incident at Abu Ghraib and the – to put it mildly – indiscretions of the former Blackwater, and of course drone strikes, demonstrate that the tenets of COIN were rarely if ever put into practice.

    Like COIN, COP calls for a closer relationship with civilians than the previous modes of crimefighting and warfare, for example in emphasizing foot patrols over patrols from vehicles. In addition to SWAT tactics resembling military tactics that the Ed. of FM has often pointed out, and the instances of police brutality detailed in this post, there is also the example of the career of former Cleveland police officer James Simone.

    Wikipedia: “James Simone, also known as “Supercop,” was a patrolman with the Cleveland Division of Police with a history of involvement in high-profile incidents.
    In more than 35 years as a police officer, he has shot 11 people in the line of duty, killing five of them. He has been shot twice, stabbed, and hit by several cars. He is also a mainstay on the department’s list of officers making the most arrests and issuing the most citations.”

    While Simone’s career has had its critics, he is frequently praised and for a time was something like a local minor media star.

    Such examples of police propensity for violence and subsequent lack of accountability suggest that either police scholars are mixed up somehow in asserting COP as the current paradigm for policing and/or, like COIN, COP is something like a PR campaign masking less friendly practices.

  7. While reading this I think back of a visit (business trip for my employer) to Houston in 2002. About 1 mile from the hotel in which I was staying (Adams Mark) there was a Mexican restaurant where I walked to one evening. I didn’t want to use a car because of the small distance and the fact that I wanted to drink some wine with my dinner.

    This walking was apparently regarded as suspect by the police. (Later it was told to me by collegues that this was indeed the case – now just wonder why so many Americans are overweight … ) A police car drove up besides me, and the officer asked quite aggressively what I was up to. I was somewhat surprised and told him that where I come from (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) many people don’t use a car for 1 mile distances. They walk or use a bicycle.

    After that he toned down a little bit (after having seen my passport). I walked on to the restaurant on this warm Houston May evening.

    When reading your story I thought back about this small incident. Maybe I have been lucky. In Nepal, when I walk around in Kathmandu (on holiday), I never carry my passport with me. That is in a safe deposit in the hotel. When I wouldn’t have had my passport with me the incident with the police officer described above might have turned pretty ugly.

    Anyway … nobody has to be “worried” that I will ever visit the USA again after my very rude treatment by US customs in 2005 when entering Houston (once again on a business trip) after they saw my Pakistan visum from 2004 (a wonderful walk through the Karakoram Mountains). The collegue who was with me thought that I could have been sent back – he joked that I even could have ended up in Guantánamo Bay. That didn’t happen, but I got the message loud and clear: I wasn’t really welcome …

    Mazzel & broge / kind regards, Evert Wesker.

    1. Evert,

      Thank you for this comment, a valuable first person account of how America looks to others.

      Unfortunately I’ve read and heard quite a few such accounts since 9-11. The first impression people get on arrival to America is provided by our Customs and Transportation Safety Administration apparatus — horrific, mad, ugly. On the other hand, that’s an increasingly accurate view of America. So we get points for honesty.

      It vital that Americans see how we have changed! Comments like yours help in that important task. Thanks for posting it.

  8. Great post. I don’t always see eye-to-eye with you, because I think you are too optimistic (ironic, perhaps, to some who think you are a pessimist).

    I am pessimistic, because I see no evidence whatsoever that anything more than a small percentage of the people I interact with see that the USA is on a downward spiral. Even an older couple in their 80’s who are good friends can do nothing more than regurgitate Democratic party talking points – while my brother can only regurgitate Republican talking points, etc.

    I think the spiraling police violence is out of control. The police have come to see themselves as exempt from the law and common decency. They no longer consider serving the public at some risk to themselves to be their jobs, but rather believe that it is acceptable to take an innocent citizen’s life if there they feel they are at risk.

    This is a sea change. I grew up in a small town, and to some extent, some small towns still have decent “law enforcement” (whatever happened to “peace officers?) personnel. But they can’t help but see what their urban brethren get away with.

    The legal immunity that their acts of violence have achieved have already become precedents. I see no going back. The Millennials are absolutely passive. As a Gen X’er, I am naturally cynical and wary of authority… not so the rising generations.

    Other than a vocal minority here in the hinterlands of the Internet, there is no outrage over the rising police brutality state.

    Add in the other issues you have discussed on this blog, and my wife and I have at first reluctantly, and now with more enthusiasm, have decided to emigrate. I do not want my son to grow up in a nation where the police are feared as demigods, with the power over life and death. I do not want him to live in a nation of hustlers, where the rich, middle class, and poor alike are all out for themselves. It’s just not worth it anymore, and I think if we are lucky, our skills and educations might just be wanted enough somewhere else to make emigration feasible.

  9. Bluestocking’s discussion of the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment provide beautiful evidence for exactly the kind of “learned helplessness” syndrome I’m talking about.

    Again and again, educated concerned progressive liberals throw up their hands and proclaim “nothing is to be done.” Whatever the suggested solution, they always sigh: “There’s no way to fix the problem. It’s [systemic/human nature/the inevitable progression of history/too corrupt to be reformed/(fill in the blank with cheap excuse of your choice)].”

    Bluestocking’s rationalization tells us that it’s human nature and we can’t change it. But if this cheap rationalization for despair is really true, how are we to explain women getting the right to vote? How did the civil rights movement of the 1960s succeed? How did the Vietnam antiwar movement manage to end the war? How did we get an eight-hour workday and a five-day work week? How did we eliminate child labor in factories? How did gays get marriage rights?

    Every time America hits one of thees tough situations, hordes of Bluestockings swarm out of the woodwork like cockroaches to explain to us in funereal tones of somber blame that it’s just Chinatown, Jake, you can’t do anything about it.

    You know what?

    George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin and John Adams and James Madison refused to believe that.

    They didn’t buy in that learned helplessness crap.

    The plain fact of the matter is that history shows that concerned committed people can produce social change if they at it hard enough and long enough.

    I would like to thank Bluestocking for providing us such a perfect example of the mindset we need to avoid in modern America is we’re going to turn this country around.

    1. Thomas,

      I agree with you 100%. However, we have to clearly see reality. And the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments tel us about aspects of human nature which we must be aware of. They don’t tell us anything we didn’t know about the nature and power of people’s dark side and pack-like nature.

    2. My point, Thomas — which you clearly either missed or conveniently chose to overlook — was that your original comment made the claim that passive submission to authority is a new development in this country in response to the more blatant use of intimidation by the authorities. The results from the Milgram Experiment indicate very clearl that this is not so and that this passive submission was part of the American psyche long before 9-11.

      As I’ve pointed out in comments on this site in the past, the possibility should not be ruled out that passive submission to authority is (paradoxically) part of our heritage. You don’t have to look too hard or too far to see that the beliefs of the Pilgrims and Puritans and other religious zealots who settled this country are still very much a part of our culture albeit at a subconscious level. For many of these people, among these beliefs was complete submission to authority — because many of these communities were theocracies, any resistance to earthly authority was the same as resistance to divine authority which they believed would be punished with eternal damnation. For many Americans, Christianity of the hellfire-and-damnation variety continues to be part of the cultural consciousness today — even if it’s not quite so severe as Puritanism — and complete submission to earthly as well as divine authority is still part of that culture (or at least, it is when there’s a Republican in the White House!).

      If anything, passive submission in this country is the egg and increasing intimidation tactics the chicken rather than vice versa. The Milgram Experiment goes a long way toward explaining why so many Americans have either accepted New America without question (and even approved of it) or else expressed misgivings about or opposition to the erosion of civil liberties while at the same time failing to mount or instigate the kind of widespread protest or resistance which might be effective in counteracting it. Nearly all the subjects in the Milgram Experiment had misgivings about what they thought was happening and questioned it…and yet nevertheless, the majority of them made the choice to continue the experiment to the end regardless of their own objections — and in response to nothing more than gentle verbal insistence, since the situation presented no evidence of risk to their own well-being (whether implicit or explicit) other than the psychological consequence of being prompted to do something which most of them would consider morally wrong.

      In much the same way, the Americans who have not chosen to identify with the oppressor and approve of New America — regardless of who’s in charge of it! — have questioned and grumbled about the erosion of our civil liberties. However, the fact remains that in the end, the majority of them have chosen to submit to the authorities regardless of their own misgivings — and in all fairness, the pressure which is being brought to bear against them is at least a little bit heavier than merely gentle insistence.

      Don’t get me wrong…I’m not trying to say that this is a good thing or that we might as well just throw up our hands and concede defeat. What I’m doing is pointing out that this is the reality of the situation on the ground — and we have to acknowledge it if we’re going to have any hope of changing it effectively. Fabius Maximus has pointed out more than once that one of the reasons why we keep fighting wars which don’t really seem to accomplish much in the end is because the people who are in charge don’t want to acknowledge the realities of what they’re up against and they choose to ignore the situation on the ground. This is why the US lost in Vietnam, why it lost in Iraq, and why it is losing in Afghanistan. The same rule applies here…the fight against New America is one which we cannot wage effectively if we refuse to acknowledge what is standing in our way. Effective, long-lasting change usually comes from within…not from without. If you truly want other people to change, one of the best ways to start is to make changes yourself — or at the very least, persuade them that they have more to lose by refusing to change than they do by changing.

    3. Bluestocking,

      “My point, Thomas — which you clearly either missed or conveniently chose to overlook”

      I sympathize with Thomas. The Milgram and Stanford Prison research are my candidate for the most depressing research, ever.

      But you are correct. We have to understand people as we are in order to effectively change society.

  10. Bluestrocking’s assertions about the Milgram experiments have entered the popular lore, and have been brought under severe question. See the article “Electric Schlock: Did Stanley Milgram’s Famous Obedience Experiments Prove Anything?”

    Turns out many of the participants in those famous electric shock experiments now claim they knew it was all staged but went along to avoid upsetting the experiment.

    Whenever elites grow bloated with hubris, these kinds of quasi-scientific results seem to get trotted out to “prove” that, as Aristotle claimed circa 300 B.C., “most of humanity consists of natural slaves.”

    After tracking down one of Milgram’s research analysts, Perry found reason to believe that most test subjects knew they were taking part in a low-stakes charade.

    “Electric schlock,” op. cit.

    1. Thomas,

      “Turns out many of the participants in those famous electric shock experiments now claim they knew it was all staged but went along to avoid upsetting the experiment.”

      They certainly could not be justifying their horrific actions! That would be wrong. We must always believe people’s justifications for their actions. That’s science!

      /sarcasm

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